Influencers promote illegal sale of ?electronic cigarette?

Just throw a few words in internet search tools to get in touch with the unusual world of “vapers”. There are hundreds of publications, forums, blogs, groups and videos in which users and advocates of electronic cigarettes talk openly about devices, brands and flavors. All through its own language, with terms so specific that they make the content even inaccessible for those who are reading for the first time or who have never heard about “vape”.

The steam “online community” is so pulverized that it doesn’t even seem to deal with the use of a product whose commercialization, importation and advertising are prohibited in Brazil. Consumption, on the other hand, is allowed.

In general, users address three topics in the publications: the exchange and (illegal) sale of “vapes”, the sharing of doubts and opinions about hundreds of models. To complete, they make statements and comments that praise the new devices as an “alternative to the traditional cigarette”, the main argument of the equipment manufacturers at a global level.

Among them, large corporations in the tobacco sector, such as Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco (formerly Souza Cruz, in Brazil), who claim that Electronic Smoking Devices (Defs) are less harmful to health than oxidizing cigarettes , the one that these companies have been selling for decades and that remain their main source of profit. Other dozens of manufacturers of “vape” advertise that the product can help smokers to quit smoking, reducing harm.

The phrase “E-cigarette causes 95% less harm than traditional cigarettes” has become jargon among vapers. Although it is often used without due credit, the statement refers to studies by Public Health England (PHE), the Department of Health in England, which for years has defended the position in isolation in the international scientific community.

The vapor from refillable products with liquid refills or juices, which mostly contain nicotine and flavorings, would be less harmful as it does not cause the combustion that occurs during traditional cigarette burning, a process responsible for producing high levels of harmful chemicals the health.

The argument that the damage is less is also used to defend heated tobacco, a device that, from an electronic blade, heats a tobacco rod and releases flavored vapor.

Contrary to what the “vapers” and the industry say, there are Brazilian and international health institutions that demand caution and consider that there are still no compelling studies to support the argument, as shown in a report published by Joio. This same understanding underlies the prohibition determined by Anvisa more than a decade ago (Resolution DC nº 46, of August 28, 2009).

In March of this year, the US Department of Health and Human Services published a report in which it endorsed that “there is currently inadequate evidence to conclude that e-cigarettes, in general, increase smoking cessation”.

In Brazil, however, there is a threat, since, after strong pressure from the industry, the issue was included in Anvisa’s 2017-2020 Regulatory Agenda. In 2019, two public hearings were held on the subject, in which documents classified as technical-scientific evidence were delivered by sectors against and in favor of the ban. The material will be analyzed by a group of external researchers and will result in the elaboration of a Regulatory Impact Analysis report.

Anvisa opened a public consultation to select the themes that will be addressed during the period and the “vapers” organized themselves to try to ensure that the debate on electronic cigarettes was not left out.

The Vapor Aqui website, for example, created by Alexandre Hazard, invited users to participate. Present on all social networks, the site is one of the main references in the “vape” world in Brazil.

Alexandre Hazard, from Vapor Aqui website, calls users to participate in Anvisa's public consultation on electronic cigarettes - Reproduction/Instagram - Reproduction/Instagram

Alexandre Hazard, from Vapor Aqui website, calls users to participate in Anvisa’s public consultation on electronic cigarettes

Image: Reproduction/Instagram

The journalist claims to have stopped smoking in 2015 thanks to “vaping” and introduces himself as an expert in “harm reduction” of tobacco. Its YouTube channel has just over 500,000 views and about 130 videos, including juice and equipment analysis and tutorials, as well as records of participation in lectures on harm reduction.

Through Twitch, an online platform for live broadcasts, it performs the “Boteco Vape” every Friday. The podcast “Vá por Aqui” is the latest bet and has calls to access Amazon’s Prime Gaming and Twitch, a gaming service where episodes are recorded.

Despite endorsing in some videos and reviews that no product is 100% safe and the best option is to always stop smoking, Hazard appears frequently using devices in the videos and extolling them as an alternative to traditional cigarettes.

Even so, Vapor Aqui claims not to contravene the law as it is considered a journalistic and informative project. In a video posted on Instagram on February 9, after Vapor Aqui’s account was blocked due to allegations of inappropriate content, Hazard said:

“I quoted RDC 46/2009 which says that advertising and importation is prohibited, but talking about having or using electronic cigarettes. This is not prohibited. And our page does this: it informs people about vape,” he said. .

Adriana Carvalho, a lawyer at the organization ACT Health Promotion, sees a weakness in Hazard’s argument. “It is a promotional site with several advertisements for advertising the products. It is advertising the DEFs, which is prohibited by law,” he says.

The report was unable to locate Hazard.

Influencers for all tastes

Most profiles do not sell the devices directly, but do analysis with long videos steaming, showing the products, and partnerships to disclose the accounts of stores that sell the devices or e-liquids.

These are profiles that indirectly promote products — those interested only need to click on the “Over 18” option to access the catalog of partner sites.

@VapersBrazil, profile of vaper Luiz Otávio, has more than 26 thousand followers on Instagram alone. On Youtube, it has more than 52 thousand subscribers, 433 videos uploaded, including tutorials for beginners. Despite stating in the bio of the social network that it does not sell electronic cigarettes, the vaper mentions the White Cloud Brasil store. In this profile, there is a space dedicated to partnerships with profiles of influencers with a much wider reach, with audiences that are not exclusively focused on electronic cigarettes.

The profile @VapersBrazil, from "vaper" Luiz Otávio, has more than 26 thousand followers on Instagram - Reproduction/Instagram - Reproduction/Instagram

The profile @VapersBrazil, of “vaper” Luiz Otávio, has more than 26 thousand followers on Instagram

Image: Reproduction/Instagram

Eye-catching models sold by the store were delivered, for example, to MC Menor and MC Jottapê, who have, respectively, 4.9 million and 6.5 million followers. Through stories, praising and showing the products received, the dissemination is much broader.

There are many profiles and channels on Youtube, but the reach of each account is different. Some do not reach 10,000 subscribers. Among them, Vapor e Ciência, sponsored by the Vape Zone BR store, the Mariano Vaper profile and Vaporacast, the first Brazilian podcast exclusively on electronic cigarettes, presented by Miguel Okumura.

There are popular channels like O Poderoso Vapor, run by Filipe Collioni, with just over 100,000 subscribers on Youtube. The Zona do Vapor, which has 191,000 subscribers on the channel and 58,900 followers on Instagram, by Marcelo Fraresso, has accumulated more than 17 million views since it was created in 2017.

O "vaper" Sardine, which commands SmokeVapor - Reproduction/Instagram - Reproduction/Instagram

The “vaper” Sardine, who runs SmokeVapor

Image: Reproduction/Instagram

SmokeVapor, run by “vaper” who introduces himself as Sardine, has 188,000 subscribers on Youtube and has accumulated over 12.8 million views since 2015. On Instagram, in April this year, there were 37.9 thousand followers.

The profile featured customer feedback and equipment prices in the highlights.

Articulation of “vapers”

The discussion forums are also a space for the vapers to articulate, including VapeOn, created by Vapor Aqui, which also names Facebook groups Vapor Aqui – Negócios and Vapor Aqui – Ajuda para o vaper.

According to Thaysa Nascimento, a researcher at the Center for Consumer Studies at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (Coppead/UFRJ), analyzes the comparative discourse with the traditional cigarette and the product’s technological appeal can influence other individuals to develop this type of consumption.

“The strategy is extremely visual, with photography being designed to attract,” he says.

Photos of electronic cigarettes shared on social networks - Replay/Instagram - Replay/Instagram

Photos of electronic cigarettes shared on social media

Image: Reproduction/Instagram

Behind the “publiposts”

On Instagram you can find thousands of photos with hashtags related to “vape”. The tag #vapebrasil, for example, has more than 80,000 mentions made, mainly in store accounts in photos of products and models that relate steam to a cool, young and pleasant way of life.

The very logic of the network, which encourages sharing, can encourage people who are not influencers to promote “vapes” in private networks, normalizing the use of devices.

Adriana Carvalho, from ACT Health Promotion, emphasizes that this is a great challenge from the point of view of bodies such as Anvisa, the Public Ministry and the platforms themselves.

The person can unpretentiously take a photo with the electronic cigarette, as well as take this photo receiving the manufacturer to be there. But this transparency does not always happen”
Adriana Carvalho, from ACT Health promotion

what social media say

Sought out, Facebook and Instagram advisors asked the report to indicate profiles that promote the “vapes“. The next day, the answer:

“We removed the publications indicated by the article that violated our Commercial Policies, which do not allow advertisements or the purchase, sale or exchange of tobacco products between people. The commercial activities of stores must comply with local legislation and respect Community Standards We combine artificial intelligence technology and human review to identify content that may violate the platform’s rules, just as we are available to collaborate with authorities under the law,” says the joint statement.

O Youtube did not respond to the report.

Oversight

According to Anvisa, between 2018 and 2019, 76 decisions were published in the first instance related to notices of infraction involving advertising and exposure to the sale of electronic smoking devices.

The most recent survey regarding online sales monitoring shows that 727 ads for the product were taken off the air between 2017 and 2018.

The Federal Revenue reported that, between 2017 and 2020, it seized more than 83,000 units of electronic cigarettes in the country.